It's long been asserted that children laugh, on average, about 300 times a day while the average adult laughs close to 20. I'm not sure how researchers got to those numbers- and I'm now imagining little kids laughing non-stop Woody the Woodpecker-style- but whenever I've hung out around kids, I've definitely observed that they find more joy and humor in simple things than many of my adult companions do. Laugher Online University, for its part, calls the "300-400 laughs per day" assertion a myth, stating that research has been inconsistent on this topic. LOU reports that both adults and children laugh during social interactions and that the frequency of laughter depends on the frequency of social interactions. Regardless of what you believe, it seems laughter is important to us. Why else would we spend so much time researching it? Laughter is an expression of our happiness, an ability to let go of cares and worries and find delight in something funny or silly or strange.
I'm not a comedian or a laugh researcher, but as a new parent, I've been in awe of how much joy my child finds in the little things: the dog as he walks by, seeing us walk into the room, discovering that he can put his feet in his mouth, different textured fabrics, being lifted into the air and kissed on his cheeks...And his expressions of joy are enormous- an ear to ear grin, a high-pitched screech, a happy giggle. His joy is unhindered by any reservations.
I love to laugh, but I don't spend most of my day chuckling. Most of the time, in fact, I have the habit of pondering either the past or the future, neither of which drives me into a fit of giggles most of the time. Because I'm not present, sometimes I miss things that could bring me great joy if I only noticed them. How warm the sun is on a bright day...a bird sitting above me in a tree...the friendly swish of my dog's tail...the people walking by...the feeling of my legs pumping as I jump...all things that my son notices with such glee.
Perhaps by the time we get to be adults, we take things for granted that a small child doesn't. The dog is always at the door to greet me. Sure, the sun is shining but I have to remember to complete the day's to-do list. I can jog around the track or on a treadmill but that's no big deal; I can always do that. It often isn't until something is taken away from us that we can fully appreciate it (my back has been hurting for the past four days and I miss the feeling of being able to walk and run easily.) Maybe we don't laugh as much as children because we have grown to expect everything around us. (Also, our sense of humor definitely changes. I've re-watched old favorite TV shows as an adult and to say I was not amused with most of them- and, in fact, confused by some of them- is an understatement.)
Things evolve. We grow up and things change. It isn't necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn't want to be at the mental level of a toddler for the rest of my life. And, growing up comes with a sense of perspective- adults aren't going to have a complete melt-down because their ice cream fell in the dirt or because a fast food restaurant messed up their order. (Wait, I think I have seen the latter once or twice. But adults are definitely not going to throw a tantrum because of other mild inconveniences. That's for sure.) Being older has its perks.
But perhaps we can learn from the tiniest members of our society and take time each day to live in the moment, to be surprised by something simple, and to laugh out loud at silly things. And then, you know, we can get back to plotting out the next five-ten years of our lives.